Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians

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As the first step in undertaking the VAWA Sovereignty Initiative, NIWRC filed an amicus brief in Dollar General Corporation, et. al. v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in the United States Supreme Court on October 22, 2015. The amicus brief filed by NIWRC called on the United States Supreme Court to uphold the authority of tribes to exercise civil jurisdiction over non-Indians who sexually assault and abuse Native women and children on tribal lands. NIWRC was joined on the brief by 105 national, regional, and tribal organizations dedicated to increasing the safety of Indian women and children.

On December 7, 2015, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, a case concerning whether the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ tribal court may exercise its inherent civil jurisdiction over tort claims filed in tribal court against a non-Indian corporation, Dollar General, whose employee supervisor allegedly sexually assaulted a young Choctaw intern working in the store that Dollar General leases from the tribe on tribal lands. In asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision affirming tribal jurisdiction, Dollar General has asked for nothing less than the wholesale elimination of all tribes’ civil jurisdiction over non-Indian conduct on tribal lands.

On the morning of the oral arguments in December, hundreds of concerned organizations and individuals joined the Quilt Walk for Justice on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court to stand in solidarity with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, and all tribes who seek to exercise their inherent sovereignty authority to protect their women and children on tribal lands. NIWRC had partnered with the Monument Quilt Project, FORCE Standing Against Rape, the National Congress of American Indians, and Indian Law Resource Center to organize the National Quilt Walk for Justice. The Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomie and Tulalip Indian Tribes joined as partners for the Walk.

In a narrow victory for the nation’s federally-recognized tribal nations, the United States Supreme Court held the 5th Circuit opinion in a 4-4 deadlock in Dollar General v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians. With this victory, the retail giant is now subject to the tribal court’s jurisdiction in a long-running case that had grave consequences for tribal civil jurisdiction for contracts and tort violations by non-Indians on Indian lands.

The Dollar General store where the alleged sexual assault occurred is located on tribal trust land leased to Dollar General. The current case concerns the claims brought by two parents whose child, a citizen of the tribe, was allegedly sexually assaulted by Dollar General’s store supervisor when he was working at the store. Dollar General had agreed to participate in a youth job-training program operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians that the youth was involved in. Following the assault, he and his parents brought an action against Dollar General in tribal court, seeking monetary compensation for pain and suffering to cover the youth’s medical and trauma recovery expenses.

Dollar General argued that the Mississippi Band of Choctaw tribal court could not exercise jurisdiction over Dollar General because the defendant is a non-Indian. After losing this argument in the Mississippi Choctaw Supreme Court, Dollar General circumvented the tribal court by filing a collateral challenge to the tribe’s jurisdiction in the United States District Court, Southern District of Mississippi. After both the District Court and the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with the tribe and concluded that the tribal court could exercise jurisdiction over Dollar General, Dollar General filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court.